Knowledge Nomads and the Nervously Employed

Book Review by Sally Gelardin

Feller, R. and Whichard, J. (2005). Knowledge Nomads and the Nervously Employed: Workplace Change & Courageous Career Choices. 152 pages. CAPS Press. $13.95.

Book Review by Sally Gelardin

I could not imagine a more courageous pair of authors suited to write this book than Rich Feller and Judy Whichard. Those of you who have heard a Feller live presentation know his far-reaching mind as he leads us bravely into unknown territories. Whether we are employed or unemployed, we live amidst workplace change. To help our clients take charge of their own career development and meet this challenge, the authors call upon career professionals to make quantum shifts in our own thinking and behavior.

Included in the book are references to relevant research and information on workforce trends, the impact of globalization, and technology and career development. The authors describe a new breed of workers, who are 'free agents tied to cyberspace,' 'knowledge nomads,' or 'global pioneers.' These knowledge nomads are 'the in-demand worker of the current and future workplace' whose lifelong commitment to learning drives their success. According to Feller, the goal of knowledge nomads is to 'agitate, create, and innovate on-time, every time.'

The authors inspire career professionals to lead our clients (sometimes kicking and screaming) into this knowledge-based workplace at an alarmingly rapid rate. Some of the characteristics of knowledge nomads are the following: abstraction, system thinking, experimentation, and collaboration. They are contract workers, comfortable with ambiguity, lifelong learners, and neutralizers of stress. Knowledge nomads are mobile, yearning for adventure, entrepreneurial, and strategic.

As I read about these new workers, who are highly valued in the workplace, both as employees and as consultants or affiliates, what strikes me is that knowledge nomads are adventurers. Their primary motivation is passion for moving humanity forward in ways that benefit the world community. According to the authors, to practice what we preach, career advisors need to be knowledge workers, which means being current on world affairs, technology, and other workplace trends. At the same time, we need to integrate home and work, and maintain a somewhat balanced and flexible life.

One other knowledge nomad characteristic is intuition, 'listening to your gut.' An example presented by the authors is Howard Schultz, who realized that the leisurely caffeine-and-conversation café model of Milan, Italy would work in the United States. He did not need market research to turn coffee into Starbucks.

It's not an easy task to be a knowledge nomad, but the rewards are great! Women, minorities, and newer workers who employ the above behaviors received overall improvement ratings 400 percent greater than their coworkers who were not practicing these behaviors (Kelly, 1998). Corporations benefit financially in the long run. Knowledge workers who demonstrate 'STAR' behaviors reported higher levels of work satisfaction, professional growth, and collegiality.

The reader gets a feeling that the authors are public advocates. They passionately care about the well-being of the workforce 'that workers deserve to thrive in these exciting, but anxious times.' To inspire career professionals to help their clients make wise choices, the authors present insights on 'workplace change, the new workplace skills, education reform efforts, initiating and propelling successful change, and the impact of globalization and technology on both work and global citizenry.' They encourage those in transition to make choices that allow them to 'nurture their passion and exceed their potential in all life roles.'

The material is not only current, but also projects into the future. Feller and Whichard advocate that all working adults, including career professionals, clients, and managers, be courageous in making career and life choices. The authors admit that as we strive to gain more control over our choices, we also have more choices to make, which can lead to confusion and unhappiness. They cite Schwartz ( 2004), who suggests that we limit the number of choices that we offer to our children and young adults. They list the following 10 'Courageous Choices' for people in career transition to consider:


      1. Cultivate and practice honest and open self-reflection.
      2. Identify and articulate your core values.
      3. Align your values with all your choices.
      4. Focus on positive goals.
      5. Serve your community, however you define community.
      6. Seek balance.
      7. Take the time to learn about others.
      8. Learn and practice democratic principles.
      9. Model global citizenry.
    10. Live in a manner that would make your grandmother and your children proud.

Of particular significance is a question related to the choice #10, 'Do I act in ways that would make my grandmother and children proud?' The authors' choice of 'grandmother,' rather than parents, inspires us to reflect more deeply on a longer time span.

Statements are backed by research, examples, graphs, and charts. Feller and Whichard coin new terms that bring to light the current state of workers, such as 'knowledge nomads' (knowledge workers) and 'nervously employed' (employed, but on a temporary basis). Filled with insights into societal conditions relating to work and life, as well as suggestions for how career professionals can help their clients maneuver their way through a world of change and challenge, this inspirational book deserves to fly!

Sally Gelardin (Ed.D. in International and Multicultural Education) is a career educator and counselor who teaches the CDF curriculum and who designed the first online course approved by the Center for Credentialing and Education for CDF CEUs. She is author of 'The Mother Daughter Relationship: Activities To Promote Lifework Success'. (2004, CAPS Press).

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